Although the word “social” is somewhat overused of late, I had to pay attention when five running legends discussed the transformation of running from a solo sport to a social activity. The panel included Bill Rodgers, Amby Burfoot and Jeff Galloway, NW Runner Magazine editor Heather Romano, and Marathon and Beyond editor Rich Benyo. They were discussing current industry trends at the Portland Marathon Event Directors’ College, which I attended recently. The panelists urged event directors to capitalize on the social nature of the sport. How? Here are some of their ideas:
- Partner with a local running store to establish a training program for your event, no matter the distance or the level. “People need a gathering place,” said Heather, and the local running retailer is a natural fit. This partnership is a win/win, as the store will welcome additional store traffic and potential new customers.
- Encourage social sharing on both your event Facebook page and on participants’ favorite social platforms. This isn’t a new idea, but the panelists reiterated how social media can be one of the most powerful tools you can use to generate excitement and a community around your event. “Everyone I know wants to run races with friends of theirs, or if you’re a father like me, with the (grown) kids and other family members.” Amby said in an email. “This used to be hard to coordinate. Now social media makes it easy. We communicate about interesting races, we sign up together, we travel to the races, we run and hang out. It’s a perfect combination. And it all starts with the social media.”
- Consider establishing a “non-traditional” event, or at least marketing to non-traditional event participants. There was quite a bit of talk around the growing popularity of mud runs and the like, and how these events are drawing in a whole new population. “I also see all the new types of races as strong sign of interest,” Bill wrote in an email. “People want to work out and become fit.” And they want to do it with their friends.
- Include a team competition in your event. You don’t necessarily need to reward the fastest time; you can reward the team with the most members, or the one that raised the most funds for your beneficiary, or even the one with the most creative name.
Amby summed it up: “I was struggling through a long run, looking at my watch and thinking ‘darn it! I’m not as fast as I should be!’ when a group of women passed me running in the opposite direction. They were checking their times too, but they were also chatting and having fun.”
- Bill Rodgers is a former marathon record holder and winner of both the Boston and New York City Marathons.
- Amby Burfoot won the Boston Marathon in 1968 while still a student at Wesleyan University and is currently blogger and editor of Runner’s World.
- Jeff Galloway was a member of the 1972 US Olympic team in the 10K and is currently CEO of Galloway Productions and monthly Runner’s World columnist.
- Heather Romano is editor of NW Runner Magazine.
- Rich Benyo is former Executive Editor of Runner’s World, and currently Editor of Marathon and Beyond and director of Napa Valley Marathon.